A look back at Spencer Grover’s impact on Hoosier health care
A lot has changed in Hoosier health care since Spencer Grover first came to the Indiana Hospital Association (IHA) in 1990. And a lot of that change can be traced back to Grover himself.
Throughout his 27-year career at IHA, Grover lent his expertise to a number of initiatives and programs that have changed the way health care providers do their important work. From providing leadership and strategic direction to IHA on regulatory affairs at both the state and the federal level to becoming a founding member of the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA) to spearheading the development of the state’s disaster preparedness efforts and trauma system, Grover’s work was wide-ranging in scope and far-reaching in impact.
Grover, who served as vice president of regulatory affairs, retired from IHA in January. But as many health care providers in Indiana know, the work he started will continue to improve the lives of Hoosiers for decades to come.
FROM ORDERLY TO CEO
Grover began his health care career in 1969 while he was still in high school, working as an orderly on the 3 – 11 p.m. shift at his local hospital in Illinois. After studying pre-med at Vanderbilt, earning his master’s degree in health administration from Georgia State University, and serving in administrative roles at other hospitals, Grover came to Starke Memorial Hospital in Knox, Indiana, in 1982 as CEO.
“Starke County was one of the poorest counties in Indiana to have a hospital. It was a challenge economically and medically. We couldn’t find physicians who wanted to go there,” Grover said.
Grover spent eight years at Starke Memorial, improving the quality and level of services and raising enough money to build a new emergency department and outpatient delivery wing. Deepening his passion for rural health care advocacy, he joined the National Rural Health Association and served on the American Hospital Association’s Governing Council for Small or Rural Hospitals.
FROM CEO TO ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT
Grover was elected to the IHA Board of Directors in 1988. In 1990, IHA President Ken Stella hired him as vice president. Charged with rural and regulatory issues, Grover worked closely with the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). His first major project was updating Indiana’s antiquated hospital licensure rules.
“In the early ’90s, Indiana’s hospital licensure rules were completely out of sync with the federal rules,” Grover said. “I worked with John Braeckel at the Indiana State Department of Health and many committees of health professionals to rewrite the rules over a two-year period before they were finally adopted in 1995.”
In 1998, Grover again worked with Braeckel to write the Critical Access Hospital Program, which enabled 35 small, rural hospitals in Indiana to obtain and preserve critical access status.
“When these 35 rural hospitals became eligible for the Critical Access Hospital Program, they received a cost-based reimbursement rate that has enabled them to remain open to this day,” Grover said. “That saved 35 communities from potentially losing their hospitals. At the former reimbursement rate, some of those hospitals would have gone bankrupt.”
“Critical access hospitals are not only important for population health, but also extremely important for economic vitality in these rural communities,” said Don Kelso, executive director of the IRHA.
RURAL HEALTH CARE ADVOCATE
Grover’s passion for rural health care is easy to trace. Raised on a farm in Illinois—and later serving as the CEO of three separate rural hospitals—Grover has a good understanding of the distinct challenges of rural communities.
“I have the same roots as a lot of our members,” Grover said.
Establishing the Critical Access Hospital Program was just one of Grover’s contributions to rural health care in Indiana. He also helped establish the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA), which enhances the health and well-being of rural populations through leadership, education, advocacy, collaboration, and resource development.
“The Office of Rural Health in the Indiana State Department of Health couldn’t advocate as well as a private entity,” Grover said. “ISDH helped us form IRHA in 1997 as a separate 501(c)(3) and assisted in making it the largest rural health association in the country.”
A former member of the IRHA Board of Directors, Grover helped facilitate a number of successful initiatives for the association over the years.
“Perhaps the most important initiative we worked on with Spencer was the FCC Broadband Pilot Project,” Kelso said.
Started in 2008, the project secured federal funding that provided fiber optics to more than 300 rural health providers, offsetting a significant percentage of their monthly internet access fees.
“This program is still ongoing and providing benefits to rural hospitals,” said Kelso.
DEVELOPING INDIANA’S TRAUMA NETWORK
Grover’s most recent work has included spearheading IHA and ISDH’s development of a better network of trauma hospitals in Indiana.
“We wanted to establish a more comprehensive trauma network in the state so that ambulances would know the best place to take trauma patients,” Grover said.
Working with Art Logsdon, assistant commissioner at ISDH, and ISDH’s Trauma Care Committee, Grover developed triage and transport rules for EMS providers and fostered the growth of certified trauma hospitals from six to 20, providing more comprehensive coverage statewide.
“This initiative has raised awareness of how to identify and treat trauma,” Grover said, “and more people are surviving trauma as a result.”
Grover was recognized for his work by Govs. Mitch Daniels and Eric Holcomb, both of whom appointed him to ISDH’s Trauma Care Committee. In 2012, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Gregory Larkin awarded Grover with the State Health Commissioner Award for Excellence in Public Health, recognizing him for his outstanding contribution in promoting, protecting, and providing for the health of people in Indiana. In 2017, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box awarded Grover the same honor. Most recently, Gov. Holcomb declared Grover a “Distinguished Hoosier.”
RETIREMENT, REFLECTION, AND THE PURSUIT OF NEW CHALLENGES
A story about Grover’s career could easily turn into an exhaustive laundry list of his professional accomplishments. But even a detailed account of his work wouldn’t capture the essence of what made Grover so important to IHA and its members over the course of the last 27 years.
“What I think will define Spencer’s legacy is not so much specific programs because there are too many to choose from,” said Logsdon. “It’s who he is and who he has been as a professional: very dependable, cordial, knowledgeable, professional. The man he is, more than any one program, will define his legacy.”
“Spencer was the go-to person for many in the health care industry,” Kelso said. “He always had a positive attitude and would find ways to accomplish complicated challenges. He did not seek the limelight or the front of the stage, but he is a titan in the rural health care industry and will be missed by me personally and by many others.”
“Spencer is definitely a guy we’re going to miss,” said Brad Dykes, president of IU Health Bedford Hospital. “He’s someone who’s had a big role in Indiana hospitals for the last 27 years under three different association presidents and has done well for all of them. Whoever steps in to take on some of his responsibilities will be a very busy person.”
That person is Andrew VanZee, who joined IHA in 2016. VanZee will be taking over many of Grover’s duties, including rural advocacy, relations with ISDH, trauma system development, and emergency preparedness.
“Spencer taught me the importance of meeting our membership’s needs and the value of quick resolution,” VanZee said. “He demonstrated that when an issue presents itself, you must quickly engage all the individuals with knowledge on the topic to have discussion and drive toward a meaningful resolution.”
Grover is looking forward to spending retirement with his wife, Susan, and the families of their seven grandchildren.
“I have a family farm in Illinois that I’ll be able to visit more often,” he said. “And there will be travel and things I need to do for myself, like working with charities and nonprofits, to keep my juices flowing.”
After a career defined by accepting grand challenges, Grover does plan to slow down a little, but not entirely.
“It took me 25 years to get my MHA and 40 years to practice with it,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll have 25 more years in my life for new challenges.”